The ill effects of human-made electromagnetic fields (EMF) aren’t just limited to humans or other mammals. Studies show that the EMF from our devices, appliances, network sources, and electrical infrastructure also harms birds in our environment. Let’s have a deeper look.
The Importance of Birds
Like many insects, birds pollinate plants and control pests. But besides that, they’re also responsible for distributing and planting seeds that contribute to 35% of the world’s crop production.
Birds act as an extra pair of helping hands to the farmers by removing harmful insects like caterpillars, weevils, cutworms, beetles, and flies from the fields. It’s mainly because of them that crops thrive, and farmers can feed millions of people worldwide.
Besides eating insects in the field, they also help grow new plants in the ecosystem by dispersing seeds and pollinating.
Certain birds, such as vultures, control the spread of deadly pathogens by consuming the dead flesh of animals in the wild. And certain species of birds produce one of nature’s best fertilizers called guano, which enriches the soil and promotes mass food production.
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In short, a huge chunk of our food supply depends on their existence and daily efforts, which means that, in a way, birds are one of the primary reasons that life on earth is possible.
To do all of these things, many species of birds actually have to migrate from one place to another. And research studies say that many human-made things in our environment harm birds’ migration ability.
Have a look.
How Do Birds Navigate?
The earth has a magnetic field surrounding it as a result of liquid iron in the outer core. As the liquid metal moves, it generates electric currents, which leads to the creation of a magnetic field.
This field plays a vital role in birds’ navigational abilities. But how do birds perceive magnetic fields?
We have known for quite some time that birds can actually see the earth’s magnetic field. This ability is called magnetoreception.
But we didn’t know how this worked until 2018 when researchers at Lund University in Sweden and Carl von Ossietzky University Oldenburg in Germany discovered that birds have a unique protein called Cry4 in their eyes.
This Cry4 protein is super sensitive to blue light from the sun, and it’s what helps birds visualize the earth’s magnetic field like a heads-up display (HUD) in an airplane.
Read this article by Forbes to learn more about Cry4 and its functioning.
Now the problem is that our actions on earth are harming birds’ ability to see magnetic fields, and as a result, many species of birds are going extinct. Have a look.
How Are Birds Impacted by The Environmental Changes?
Many environmental factors, such as climate change, light pollution, and EMF pollution, have directly impacted birds’ navigational abilities. Let’s explore them one by one.
“Human-induced climate change has begun to affect our planet and the organisms that live on it. Many migrating birds are very sensitive to environmental changes and are already being affected by climate change,” reads an excerpt from the website World Migratory Bird Day. “Increasing temperatures, changing vegetations, and extreme weather conditions lead to significant changes in the birds’ essential habitats.”
“In many cases, these are likely reasons for the decline of bird populations and changes in migration patterns,” it continues. “Climate change is likely to impact migratory birds in a number of different ways… Increased storm frequency, lowered water tables, higher drought frequency, sea level rise, and habitat shifts resulting from climate change could all have a dramatic impact on migratory birds.”
Experts say this could lead to problems like starvation, diseases, vulnerability to predators, and reproductive issues.
“The journeys of night-migrating birds are already fraught with danger. Light pollution adds yet another hazard beyond the increased risk of collisions with buildings or communication towers,” says a 2022 research study by Cornell University. “Birds attracted by the glow of artificial light at night are drawn into areas where they are also exposed to higher concentrations of airborne toxic chemicals.”
What is light pollution?
Today, we use many artificial light sources to illuminate our homes, backyards, and streets. And we tend to use them excessively. This inappropriate and excessive use of artificial light is known as light pollution.
Since most birds migrate at night, experts say that too much unnatural light makes the birds’ path fraught with extreme danger.
Studies say that birds that move towards artificial light also often find themselves in areas with higher concentrations of airborne toxic chemicals which further endanger their survival.
Besides climate change and light pollution, EMF is also a significant contributor to the decline of bird populations, as it interferes with their navigational and other abilities. Let’s have a deeper look.
What is EMF?
Before moving further and understanding how EMF impacts birds’ abilities, let’s first look at what EMF is.
EMF, or electromagnetic fields, are energies that are generated when electric and magnetic fields combine.
When electricity moves from one place to another, it creates an energy field that occupies around 7-8 ft of space around it. And you may have already experienced magnetic field energy if you have played with refrigerator magnets during childhood. The energy that makes a magnet attract or repel other objects is known as the magnetic field.
Combined, these two fields create an electromagnetic field. This is present in both natural and artificial forms in our environment. The natural EMFs come from sources like the sun, lightning, and of course, the Earth.
Artificial EMF comes from sources like our phones, laptops, tablets, power lines, network towers, household appliances, and more.
I’ve already written a separate post that explains EMF in-depth. So, give it a read.
The Ever-Growing EMF Pollution
Over the past three decades, the amount of EMF sources in our environment has grown significantly. Our internet, phones, computers, speakers, headphones, keyboards, mice – almost everything is wireless.
And to support some of these EMF sources, we need massive infrastructures that add additional EMF to our environment.
Besides that, the newer 5G standard network, which operates on a higher frequency, needs significantly more towers than 4G to effectively work.
The list is endless, and all of it points to only one thing – the EMF pollution will keep increasing, and it’s not going to stop anytime soon.
And this has significant effects on humans, flora, and fauna.
How Does EMF Affect Birds?
In 2014, National Geographic reported on the work of Prof. Henrik Mouritsen, in which he proved that the EMF pollution in our environment interferes with birds’ navigational abilities.
For his experiment, Prof. Mouritsen captured European robins and placed them inside a cage in a windowless room. Once he put the birds in there, they all tried to flee in the same direction, which is typical because birds, as mentioned above, have magnetoreception that helps them sense the earth’s magnetic field to navigate.
After some time, Mouritsen moved the birds to the University of Oldenburg, and something unusual happened. He noticed that the birds were trying to flee in different directions this time as if they had no sense of where they were supposed to go.
Even after altering variables like the light’s intensity, the size and shape of the funnels, and the birds’ food, nothing changed. He later suspected that the EMFs present in his Oldenburg University lab might be interfering with their ability to sense magnetic fields.
Two years passed, and once again, Prof. Mouritsen resumed the experiment with postdoctoral researcher Nils-Lasse Schneider. And this time, they came up with an idea to place the birds inside a Faraday cage.
A Faraday cage is an enclosure made using a mesh of conductive materials like metals. This device can block electromagnetic fields, and it’s used primarily to protect EMF-sensitive objects from getting damaged.
When they placed the birds inside the Faraday cage, their sense of detecting the earth’s magnetic field seemed to return. And when the researchers removed the birds from these special cages, they once again flew in random directions.
This study demonstrates that EMF heavily impairs a bird’s ability to use magnetoreception, causing migratory birds to lose their sense of direction, potentially leading to eventual mass extinction.
Microwave RF is the Main Cause of Birds’ Decline: Study Says
“Microwave and radiofrequency pollution is the main cause of decline in birds,” said biologist Alphonso Balmori in his 2009 study on the effects of EMF on wildlife.
His three-part study included birds like white storks, sparrows, and other species at a community park.
- In his study with the white storks, he observed several nests located within 200-300 meters of cell phone base stations. At the end of this study, he found that 12 nests in the 200-meter range never had any chicks. This demonstrates that EMF affects the birds’ ability to reproduce.
- The second part of his study included house sparrows. It included 150-point locations within six areas in the breeding season. He noticed that there were fewer sparrows in highly EMF-polluted regions.
- Finally, in the urban parks, he noticed that the bird population was significantly lower in places with nearby EMF sources than in areas with less EMF exposure.
Balmori concluded the study by saying, “In the light of current knowledge, there is enough evidence of serious effects from this technology to wildlife. For this reason, precautionary measures should be developed, alongside environmental impact assessments prior to installation, and a ban on installation of phone masts in protected natural areas and in places where endangered species are present.”
Birds are an essential part of our ecosystem. If they aren’t protected soon, we won’t be here. But what can you even do? It’s not like you can ask telecom companies to shut down their developments or electronics companies to stop creating gadgets.
You may feel like the situation is truly out of your control. But that’s not really the case.
Because you have the power to reduce YOUR emissions. It may not feel like much, but your actions will indeed make a significant change.
Learn the many ways you can reduce your contribution to the ever-growing EMF pollution on the SYB Blog.
Besides reducing your EMF emissions, I also ask you to share this information with others. And to do that effectively, you can check out our EMF advocacy page.
On this page, you’ll learn how to talk to people about EMF in a way that convinces them to make some real changes in their lives.
So, let’s join hands and work together to make it safer for every living, breathing creature to exist on this irreplaceable planet.